” I Don’t Think You’re Funny! “

” Sorry to hear about your problem. But keep at it – if you try to have a thought every day – even a little one – eventually thinking comes easier.

But thank you for the complement in the latter part of your speech. You might leave a little pause between the first sentence and the second, so people understand that there is a full stop there… ”

Well, there you go. A ready-made Uncle Dick squelch for the person at a party who wants to be offended and take over your conversation upon that basis. You could cede it to them by apologising for whatever it was you said – but you would have a difficult time getting it back. This way you leave them wondering what the holes are on both sides of their mental cockpit and what that whizzing noise was. It was a 40mm Bofors squelch.

There are lots of what the Readers Digest used to call Perfect Squelches to be had – and  lots of times when they are needed – but unfortunately we often miss the cue and fail to fire. Or we are a little slow in the fusing, and the target flies away. A squelch delivered too late bounces off the ground and can detonate in your face.

The best thing to do is practise – and nowadays we are given this opportunity nearly every day when the Indian call centre scammers ring up to try to take control of our computers. There is a brief pause after you lift the telephone receiver and then often a hiss or the sound of a background camel market as the scammer reels out their spiel – you can have up to ten seconds to collect your wits, fuse a squelch, slam it into the breech, and reach for the trigger.

Use these scammers as practise targets. Do not be rude or profane – don’t even be vulgar. Be nice. Be logical. Be honest. Draw a bead on them and tell them that you are Billy The Old Kid and that you rob railway trains as a pension. Tell them that are looking for a Russian bride but all the agencies will offer is Vladimir Putin in a dress. Tell them that you are the ghost of John Diefenbaker looking for butter tarts. Do it in a serious voice.

Note: When an Indian scammer blows up the results can be spectacular. They are only human, after all, and it must be hot and sticky there in the market. They are often only one call away from running amok.

” I Have Loved You From Afar…”

Cut out the title of this column and keep it ready by the phone. You are bound to get a scam phone call from India around tea-time and it is a very good phrase to use. If you do it with a sweet voice and then say ” Alas…” and let your voice trail away, the caller will not bother you again. They may go home to their little Indian flat in the heat of the night and scratch themselves all over, but that is not your affair.

There are other words and phrases that can help us through our day.

a. ” You are the one I saw yesterday. ”

This is a perfectly innocuous statement that can be spoken to nearly anyone in a public place. It has the ring of truth. It is also quite disconcerting, but no-one knows why.

b. ” You may speak to me now. The restrictions have been lifted. ”

Ditto for (a.). A little riskier because you may find that they have not spoken to anyone for a month and this will open the floodgates. If they start to become agitated, threaten to call a policeman. Call the policeman a bad name and then say the other person said it.

c. ” Your prices seem a little low. I was hoping to pay more. ”

This said to any retail seller will ring alarm bells throughout their whole body. If you then leave the shop they will be left wondering whether they have made a serious mistake somewhere. When they decide to raise their prices storewide, come back in and demand a discount.

d. ” Does your food contain ingredient 453B? Because I am not allowed to eat 453B. It’s on the EEC schedule 2, you know. Do you have a list of ingredients? ”

This said in any eatery, from Jamie Oliver to a pie cart, will cause the owner to bristle like a warthog. The wise ones will throw a pan of hot fat at you and have done with it – the foolish will try to argue their way out of it.

e. ” You were recommended to me by your competitors. “…here you can insert the name of an actual business rival for better effect.

The person you are speaking to will be flattered and frightened. Are you a plant or a trojan horse designed to make a nightmare of the place? Have you been so unpleasant at another shop that they have desperately sent you here? Or are you a chance for a big sale?

A variant on this is to say that you have been recommended by several other firms – and give their names…but the kicker is none of them are in the same business as the shop you are in…

f. ” Do you mind being recorded for evidence? ”

If they say yes, you ask what they have to hide. If they say no you ask whether they realise what is being said about them at the department. Have them speak clearly into your top coat button.

The Assumption Of Social Media

It happened again today. I sat down in my lounge room with a friend and had a conversation. The computer was off and I made no typographical errors. Both he and I seemed to be making intelligent statements and not once did we break out into a political meme or a picture of a cat. And neither of us invited the other person to play a brightly-coloured game. I’m a little creeped out at present.

Is this the start of an actual thing – this business of talking face to face and not using emojis? ( I will admit to making several emoji faces, but my friend just asked whether I had swallowed a teaspoon.

It all came about by him deciding that Facebook was eating up too much of his spare time, and by analysing the bulk of the posts and conversations…and then deciding that many of them were not as attractive or as helpful as a blank screen. And he’s not the only one – I have a regular weekly meeting with another friend ( at least I’m regular, but then fibre biscuits will do that for you ) where we do much the same thing. The topics are far-ranging and there are no advertisements to endure. So far neither of us has put the other one on time-out for a month.

Social media assumes that we want to see all that we do see. It tries by means of computer logging and recording to find out exactly what we want to look at, with no responsibility save that of the shill to provide anything else. It is the snoop and the sneak at the edges of our conversations with others – always piping up with what it hopes is a catchy phrase or picture. The click-bait scams are, quite frankly, just a form of intellectual pornography.

It assumes we are more foolish and venal than we really are. That we can be cozened into doing small useless things and that we will be willing to set these things onto other people in a chain of folly. This may seem to be annoying and insulting, but really is a valuable thing. It enables you to see who within your circle of acquaintance is gullible enough to borrow money from. Though I should be quick – by the time the click-bait advertisers get to them, they may have spent it already on lemon peelers and facelift hooks.

Like the moon landings, this experience of actual human interaction is one small step for mankind. Who knows whether it may ultimately lead to turning Facebook off altogether. Only time will tell.

The Social Gaff

That’s a typo, right?

It should be social gaffe with an “e ” at the end – that sort of blunder that we all make from time to time in public. The one where we say the wrong thing or use the wrong spoon. The minor public embarrassment, Right?

Wrong. The title is spelled correctly . I’m talking about the long pole with a curved hook on the end – the one you thrust into a conversation to drag out a victim, wriggling and twisting. It is distantly related to the social three-gang hook but in the case of the gaff you don’t need to bait it – you just poke and haul.

Imagine a group of people standing around at a barbecue drinking cans of beer and  waiting for the meat to be ready. You glance at the BBQ plate and note that, though you have not added anything onto it yourself, you would like some of the chops and snags. Obviously there won’t be enough for everyone – somebody’s got to go.

Select a good big juicy  victim – they are likely to have brought the best BBQ pack. Wait until the BBQ is ready to go. Then ask them if their car parking lights are still on. With any kind of luck they will slope off on the double to check – you swoop on their dinner – and they are left with nothing but salad and a bun when they get back. It takes timing, but it never fails.

Or suppose you want to remove someone from a social group. Just insinuate to three other people that your victim is worried while misconduct charges are investigated. Don’t specify what charges.

Then tell your victim that people seem to be talking about them.

You can go off and get a drink and by the time you get back they will be gone. And no-one knows exactly why. Today’s internet scandals revolve around sex, but tomorrow it might be money, politics, or religion…and people will just apply whatever they have read wherever they get a chance.

Or a simple one. Lean over into a group at a social gathering and give one of them a $ 5 bill.  Say they were right about the host and that they win the bet…Then move off and lose yourself in the crowd. Pick a complete stranger. It’ll be the best $ 5 entertainment money you’ve ever spent.




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There are few words in normal usage in the English language more likely to get you into trouble than ” idiot”. No matter how it is used, it rarely ends well.

People may say this of other, stronger words – words of abuse – words that are washed out of the mouths of schoolboys with lye soap. They’re bad, but nowhere near as dangerous as “idiot”. You see, “idiot” is very nearly scientific and respectable. So was Edward Teller, and look at what he made…

Leaving the ever-changing scientific definitions of intellectual impairment alone, and also not wishing to saddle people so adjudged with further torment, we come to the use of the word now as a pejorative. Commit a foolish act on the road and you are an idiot. Make some mistake in your job and you are an idiot. Offend the rich and entitled and you are an idiot.

It is also used as the bait in any number of social traps. ” Do you think I’m an idiot?’ or ” Do I look like an idiot?’ are two invitations to take the fight further. In both cases it is difficult to know whether the questioner would like yes or no for an answer. It all depends upon whether they think they can beat you verbally or physically. Make your own judgement before replying.

You can be a bit more specific if they ask you ” What kind of an idiot do you take me for?”. In this case, ” incautious” is a good answer. That puts the ball firmly back into their court and they are generally on the wrong foot to parry it.

” I’m such an idiot.” said by someone who wants your sympathy is also a dangerous moment. If you say ” Yes. Yes, you are.” you may think you are being sympathetic and helpful but you are tickling a land mine…Best to just murmur ” No no, nononono…” and edge for the door.

” Idiot-proof” is seen in advertisements sometimes to promote confidence in a product. Reflect that people make products and G_d makes idiotic people and consider who is likely to be ahead of the game…

” Idiotic” as a description is useful, nevertheless. If it can be applied to ideas rather than people it can at least alert us to look more closely at them and at what they are composed of. Sometimes the use of the term points out the failings of the speaker rather than the ideas. Many inventions were idiotic until they were actually assembled and then marketed. Of course some have gotten as far as being staples of a national culture but still remained idiotic – which says something about the nation that embraces them.

And we must remember that the term is perfectly acceptable in the lingua franca of the political world. Every opponent who cannot rise to the status of villain or pariah can at least be an idiot. If they switch sides and join our party they can become heroes.

Heroes is the back side of idiots.